Cultural Notes

Age of Dahveed and Jonathan--Nearly everyone assumes that Dahveed and Jonathan were close in age. Nearly everyone is wrong. 1 Samuel 13:1 tells us that Shaul was 30 years old when he began to reign, and that he reigned for 42 years. 1 Samuel 13:2,3 tell us that Jonathan was, at this time, old enough to lead the army, therefore in his late-teens at the youngest. If Dahveed at 30 (2 Samuel 5:4) took the throne in Hebron when Shaul and Jonathan died, (2 Samuel 2:7), then Shaul must have reigned at least 10 years before Dahveed was born, making Jonathan in his late 20's or older at the time. Jonathan is, therefore, old enough to be Dahveed's father.

Blood guilt--The murder of a person always brought the curse of blood-guilt, which could only be cleared with blood. If a family member was murdered or killed by someone, the family would appoint a "redeemer (goel) of the blood" to track down and kill the person responsible. This was the reason for the cities of refuge. A person who caused accidental death could flee to them and be safe from the avenging Goel of the Blood. If a person was found murdered out in the forest, or on the road somewhere, the land itself had incurred blood-guilt, and there was a specific sacrifice and ritual associated with cleansing the land of the murdered person's blood, and thus removing the curse from the land and/or any nearby towns. Curses were terrible punishments and greatly feared since they were enforced by the gods or by Yahweh, and there was no protection from Yahweh's curse. There isn't any today, either.

Casemate walls--Casemate walls were created by building two parallel walls out of the largest stones manageable, then filling the space in between with smaller rocks, dirt, rubble or whatever else was available. The top was then paved with stone. With a large enough casement wall, you could literally hollow out a room in it.

Clothing and honor--Clothing was a social signal of status. In addition, clothing literally bestowed authority. To this day, we still have investiture ceremonies wherein the clothing (the vestments) of an office are given. We just don't continue to wear that clothing every day! The opposite of invest is divest, and if we divest someone of something, we strip away the associated vestments, and thus the authority. The possession of a high office brought with it the obligation to wear the clothing of that office, so people would know who held what place. By wearing the clothing associate with an office, a person laid claim to that authority. Because of this, simply wearing the king's clothing could be an act of treason.

Dahveed an illegitimate son--Dahveed himself says this plainly in Psalms 51:5. To quote the KJV: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me." The NIV and the New Living Translation both contort this verse to reflect the idea of original sin, rather than illegitimacy. Unfortunately, the idea of original sin never entered anyone's mind until nearly 1300 years after Dahveed died, when Augustine propounded it around 350 AD. If you have a Strong's Concordance, look up the words "iniquity", "sin" and "conceive." Incidentally, that word "conceive" is the one usually used to describe animal lust/conception, not human conception. Given the meanings of these words, and the fact that the idea of original sin didn't exist in Dahveed's time, I do not see how anyone can say Dahveed was talking about it.

Dahveed "Taken" by Shaul--This is another place where much is lost in the translation of the Hebrew to the English. The Hebrew verb used in 1 Samuel 18:2, "to take" normally applies to something being "taken" without choice on the object's part. When the object is not a person, that's to be expected. You don't ask your shoes if they mind if you take them when you leave the house. Applied to a person, therefore, the verb can indicate an action done without the person's consent. The context in which the verb is used will usually reveal whether it should be interpreted in this way. As nearly as I can tell, all the other times this verb is used describing action by Shaul toward Dahveed, the context is hostile toward Dahveed, and something happens against Dahveed's will. Given the fact that previously Shaul had asked Dahveed's father for permission for Dahveed to play the harp for him (1 Samuel 16:22), I think it is significant that such permission was not sought this time. In addition, 1 Samuel 18:2 goes on to say that Shaul would no longer let him return to his home. Add in the fact that in 1 Samuel 20:8 Dahveed uses the word "slave/servant" to describe himself, and that in 1 Samuel 25:10 Nabal says Dahveed is a "slave/servant" who has run from his master, I think there is enough evidence to assume that Dahveed was enslaved by Shaul.

Dahveed's Anointing--This is another instance where the variety of ways to interpret some Hebrew words causes difficulty. In the Hebrew, the phrase to describe how Dahveed was anointed in relationship to his brothers can mean "in the midst of his brothers" as many translations have it, or it can mean, "from in the midst of his brothers." Given the fact that Shaul was spying on Shamuel, and that the prophet told God point-blank that he was afraid to anoint someone because of what Shaul might do, and the fact that Shaul did indeed try to kill Dahveed on numerous occasions because he didn't want him to become king, it would be completely idiotic on Shamuel's part to publically anoint Dahveed. I have, therefore, taken the second interpretation of this phrase, since it fits in with the rest of the story much more logically.

Emmanuel—The term "emmanuel" during the time of Dahveed was connected with the concept of the Gebirah (see below). The institution of the Gebirah often brought with it some form of "sacred" or "divine" marriage. Here on earth the king, representing rulership, would "marry" the Gebirah, symbolizing the kingdom, thus echoing the mythic marriage of the gods in heaven. Any resulting child would be the "emmanuel," a physical symbol of the union of ruler and kingdom. In some cases he was the heir to the throne, rather than just any son that the king might have with his queen or concubines.

En-dor—Probably only those living in Shaul’s own culture could fully understand his interaction with the medium at En-dor. What is still evident to us today is that it carried extremely serious consequences. Leviticus 19:26 connects eating meat with blood in it with divination and witchcraft. The biblical description of the preparation of the meal at En-dor mentions all phases of the preparation of the (unleavened) bread. But the medium simply slaughters the calf. The word used for slaughter is the same word normally employed to describe the killing of an animal for sacrifice. Unleavened bread is normally added to such a sacrifice, and with the meat being eaten with the blood, it is a strong indication that she prepared a covenantal meal for the dead. Space limitations do not permit me to explore several other indications of such a meal.

Family Relationships--Family was of primary important in the Ancient Near East. However, families were organized differently then than they are today. The closest bond a person had was with siblings, not parents. Brothers and sisters were expected to look out for each other, and be the confidants and advisors for each other. The husband-wife relationship was more of a business/contractual partnership than anything else. A wife was not expected to love her husband. She was expected to be loyal to him, but her supportive relationships would come from her family of origin, and she would not be counted part of her husband's family until she bore a son. The closest bond for a married woman was with her son, who was expected to stand up for her against all comers, even his father if necessary, and who would care for her in her old age. The function of a father as we understand it today, was not performed by the man who sired you, but by your mother's brother, your maternal uncle. He was the one responsible for emotional support, teaching and guidance.

Forever--In biblical times, forever meant "as long as one or other of the parties swearing live." Since Jonathan asked for hesed for his "house" and his family would presumably continue for generations, Dahveed must swear for as long as he (Dahveed) shall live, as he would not expect to outlive the generations in Jonathan's family. This is why Joab flees to the tabernacle altar when he hears that Dahveed has died. Any covenant of protection given to him "forever" ceases to be, since with Dahveed's death forever is over. This is also why the death of an overlord king demanded that all the under-kings come and renew allegiance even though they swore to be faithful forever. The other party died, so forever is over. Of course, not all the under-kings would want to renew a covenant, which usually precipitated war.

Fringe--fringe on a robe indicated status. The longer the fringe, the higher the status. A person could quite accurately place another in the correct status level simply by looking at the color, ornamentation, and material of their clothes.

Gebirah--The Gebirah was the woman who owned the land, and so embodied that land. Whoever married the woman, "married" the land and became its ruler. The idea of the Gebirah had several variations in ancient times. In Egypt, any woman in the palace could be named Gebirah, so to be safe, the Pharoah married them all. In Edom, one woman was Gebirah, (and her daughter probably became the next Gebirah) and whoever married her became the next king of Edom. The Hittites had a position similar to the Gebirah which also carried religious duties, and this woman was appointed to the position, but held it for life independently of other political changes. The institution of Gebirah existed in Israel until King Asa, as attested in 1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Chronicles 15:16. The word is translated as "queen mother" in these verses.

Gibeonites-- The Gibeonites lived in four cities occupying the heart of the territory of Ephraim west of Jebus/Jerusalem--Gibeon, Beeroth, Chephirah and Kiriath Jearim. See Joshua 9 for the beginning of their service to the tabernacle. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles 8: 29-34 and 9: 35-40 give clear indication that Shaul's clan descended from Gibeon.

Goliath--There is evidence that the Philistine champion David killed might have been Goliath's father. The name "Goliath" is only applied once to the man David killed. Otherwise, he is simply called "the Philistine." If the man Dahveed killed was the father of Goliath, this would harmonize with the text in 2 Samuel 21:19 where it says David's man, Elhanan, killed Goliath.

Goliath's height--How tall was the giant Dahveed killed? The earliest known manuscript of 1 Samuel, one of the Dead Sea scrolls, gives the Philistine's height as four cubits and a span, not six cubits. This makes the giant seven feet tall, not nine. Why the change? Again, culture takes a hand. One of the jobs of a scribe was to make the king look good to the populace on any and all occasions, and that job didn't necessarily end when the king died. Therefore, adding just a bit to the height of the Philistine Dahveed killed, even if Dahveed had been dead for hundreds of years, was perfectly acceptable in that culture and time since it would emphasize how great Dahveed was. And before we judge these practices too harshly, we should perhaps give close scrutiny to what some of today's public relations "spin doctors" do!

Grain Silos--Many times the people of the Bible stored their grain in large jars called pithoi, which they buried up to the neck, then covered with a wooden or pottery lid. The pithoi could be six feet tall and 30 inches across at their widest point which was directly under the neck. The vessel then tapered down to a near point at the bottom. The sides were up to one inch thick, with the surface only roughly smoothed. As the level of grain lowered in the pithoi, someone would actually have to be lowered into it--probably a child--to hand up the grain.

Harp or Lyre--The ancient Israelites had two stringed instruments which scholars have been able to identify as a harp or a lyre. Unfortunately, scholars have not be able to determine which Hebrew name goes with which instrument! Therefore, some scholars say the instrument Dahveed played for Shaul was a lyre, others say a harp. Since "common knowledge" says Dahveed played a harp, I chose that one.

Hesed--This word is translated "loving-kindness" in most modern translations. Sometimes it is translated "mercy," but both translations again leave out some of the important connotations of the Hebrew idea. Hesed can only come from the one person who must act in order for another's life to be preserved. This makes it the perfect word to describe what God does for us. If he didn't act, we'd all die, and he is the only one whose action will give us life. Therefore, he gives hesed.

Honor--Honor was the grease which made ancient society work, much as money does in Western societies. Honor can be thought of as the respect and approval of one's community. To understand honor, think of it as a credit rating. Without honor, the avenues open to a man to support himself and his family were severely limited, much as a bad credit rating limits a person today. Anything which would make people think less of a person or their family reduced the family honor. Keeping and maintaining honor, therefore, was of primary importance, and every action had to be measured against what people would think of it. Generally speaking for people on the same status level, older persons had more honor than younger ones. All honor belonged to someone, and gaining honor meant someone else lost it. Where honor came from was very important, and being greedy about honor brought dishonor! Also generally speaking, richer people had more honor than poorer ones, but only generally speaking. The most honorable man in town didn't have to be the one with the most possessions. To be rich without honor meant a person was greedy, and so the person was despised. To be rich with honor meant a person was wealthy, and therefore blessed and honored.

Honor Wars--Honor wars involved what we today call "disrespecting" someone. Wars could only develop between persons of the same status. Therefore, a householder could not have an honor war with a servant, only with another householder who held the same amount of honor in the eyes of the community. Servants could have honor wars with each other, but not their master/employer. Disrespect could be shown in either overt or subtle ways. Deliberately not bowing low enough to someone would slight their honor. Refusing to look at someone could do the same, as well as the order in which you spoke to people when in their presence. If an honor slight was given, the person slighted was obligated to either protest the slight or return it in some way, or else lose honor in the eyes of the community. Wars could also develop, though, over compliments and gift giving. Any gift/compliment received brought the obligation to return a gift/compliment of equal value, otherwise honor was lost to the giver. Any society interaction, therefore, had to be carefully viewed and calculated to take honor into account.

Israel and Judah separate--In the time of Shaul and Dahveed, Israel and Judah were considered separate political entities, which is the reason they are named separately in so much of the Bible. This may hark back to Gen 38:1 where we are told that Judah separated himself from his brothers and lived around Adullam. What was involved in this separation, how long it lasted and how it effected his relationship with Jacob and the rest we don't know. In any case, Judah was apart from the rest, and in many of the stories in Judges, the tribe is never mentioned. Archaeology tells us that at the time of Shaul and Dahveed, Judah was very sparsely populated and people lived at subsistence level. Only around Hebron was there some measure of wealth. The separation between Israel and Judah continued during the "United Monarchy," preserved in the differing political arrangements between the two countries and the king, who simply happened to be the same person.

Marriage--Attitudes toward marriage were very different in the ancient Near East. Marriage was more of a business partnership/political partnership than a relationship of love and trust. A woman was not expected to love her husband, or to look to him for emotional support. His job was to supply her physical needs and give her children, particularly sons, who would then support her in her old age. Emotional support came from the woman's siblings/family of origin. Pre-nuptial agreements were the norm, with everything expected from each side of the union spelled out. This included what would happen in case of divorce. Rights for the woman and her children were explicitly stated.

Given the above attitudes, having more than one wife was simply a matter of how many you could support. And only those who were rich/of high status could support more than one. Thus multiple wives was a sign of status. From the political side of things, almost any alliance with a neighboring country/king necessitated a marriage. Thus God's prohibition that Israel's kings were not to multiply wives had a very strong political side to it. Israel was not to have a lot of alliances with surrounding countries. However, by the time of Dahveed, much, if not most, of God's counsel on these matters had been lost. Remember, Shamuel had to write up a book of judgments when Shaul became king. Therefore, the cultural attitudes in Israel matched those of the surrounding peoples. Marriage was a rather easy-come, easy-go affair with one exception. The woman must always be provided with support to sustain her life and that of her children if there were any. This concern seems to have remained even when other parts of God's counsel didn't.

These attitudes explain why Shaul could so easily sever the union between Dahveed and Michal, why he could give Michal to another man, why Dahveed felt free to marry other women, and why concubinage was accepted. As long as the woman was provided for---her "social security" was in place---things were fine. Honorable men could have what we would term an affair today, and no one blinked an eye. Indeed, if the woman involved was from a lower status family, her connection to a higher status man was a distinct advantage to her house and clan, one not to be despised. (For example, Atarah's connection to Hassar Jonathan in Book 2.) However, if the affair ended, for whatever reason, the woman must be decently provided for, on pain of loss of honor to the man. (And remember, loss of honor was a very serious thing.)

Money--People in Israel in Dahveed's time didn't have money or even coins as we know them. They had pieces of precious metals, and traded them for goods, although most "buying and selling" was actually trading for goods in kind. (For instance, "I'll give you this goat for that much grain.") This being the case, jewelry was as much currency as it was body decoration. In my book Ruth and Boaz I do use the term "gerah" to indicate pieces of gold or silver, etc. since it seemed the most convenient to do so. However, in this book, I decided that simply saying "piece" gave more of the flavor of the times.

Power--Just like today, power in Bible times brought responsibility. Much power in the Bible was based on influence, and influence was based on honor (see above.) In other words, honor brought power. With death and/or disaster able to descend in so many ways, anything which might protect the family was much sought after, and power opened up ways to ease the family's position, and provide a small cushion between the family and death. Therefore, when an individual acquired honor/power they were compelled by social norms and sheer survival to seek ways to use that power to benefit their family first, then anyone connected with the family. Because power was connected to honor, however, it must be used very carefully to avoid anything which would detract from honor, and thus lessen the power itself.

Preserving a name--The most important thing in the culture of the Ancient Near East was to preserve a name and/or an inheritance. There was no belief in an afterlife, such as the Egyptians believed, or in the idea of an immortal soul which lived on after the body died, such as the Greeks developed. (Christians today get the idea of an immortal soul from the Greeks.) The ancient Israelites believed that when you died, you died. The concept of eternal life was actually the concept of eternal remembrance. If a person's descendants remembered their name, that's how the person survived death. They lived on in memory, for a person's name was the person. This made having descendants of utmost importance, since who else would remember your name? To die childless was the ultimate death. The chances of having descendants to remember were greatly increased if they had land to live on, making the preservation of the family land of paramount importance also.

Prophesying--What was considered the gift of prophesy changed over time, just like many other things in ancient times. While Samuel was alive, prophesy had little to do with foretelling the future. That definition of prophesying came into being much later. Prophesy in the time of Shaul was an ecstatic behavior, probably most analogous to the behavior today we call "speaking in tongues." When the Bible describes Shaul as prophesying, the word may be used to describe Shaul's behavior as behavior, rather than carry with it any spiritual connotations. This word would probably be the closest description the ancient Israelites had for a manic-depressive state such as bipolar syndrome, which is our best guess at what Shaul suffered from.

Pure and impure--Ritual purity/cleanness or ritual impurity/uncleanness had nothing to do with dirt, grime, germs, and such. Ritual purity/cleanness had to do with boundaries. Such boundaries created order out of chaos (Job 26:10; Psalms 104:9; and Jeremiah 5:22, among other verses) and so were sacred. Therefore, anything that crossed boundaries threatened order and created impurity/uncleanness. Rituals then must be performed to restore the boundaries and thus order. Such rituals could be as simple as washing with water, or they might be elaborate, involving sacrifices and other ceremonies. Impurity could occur anywhere. Bats, for instance, were, in the ancient way of thinking, neither bird nor mammal. They crossed boundaries and were unclean. Blood should remain within the boundary of the skin. Contact with blood outside the skin created impurity since it had crossed a boundary. Often births and deaths, and always menstrual cycles, created ritual impurity, and that must be rectified by the counter-ritual of washing. Nocturnal emissions for men did exactly the same thing, and also required washing.

Satan—The noun "satan" means in the Hebrew "adversary or opponent." The connotation is that of one who hinders or stands in the way. In the judicial sense, it means the accuser, or the opposing party.

Scribes and Deceit--In the Ancient Near East, one of the jobs of a royal scribe was to make the king look good before the commoners. See the note above on Goliath's height. There were, however, strict rules about how this could be done. At no time could an actual lie be told. For instance, in the yearly report to be read to the general populace throughout the kingdom, the scribes might record that in such and such a month, the king's army invaded the lands of a neighboring king, his soldiers attacked, and the enemy was routed before them. The commoners would cheer, believing that the king had won a great victory. However, the nobles and courtiers at court knew that what had actually happened was that three soldiers from the king's army had crossed the border and thrown rocks at the local farmers, driving them from the fields. While everything in the final report was strictly true, it gave a completely false impression. I would imagine those in the know got a great deal of amusement out of these reports. Scholars call this the "Tiglath-Pilesar Principle," and Halpern, in the book David's Secret Demons does an excellent job of explaining and illustrating this principle using the thousands of clay tablets found, on which scholars have read both the daily annals (which report what the three soldiers did,) and then the yearly summary (written for distribution around the kingdom.) Truly, "there is nothing new under the sun." Today's spin doctors could take lessons from ancient scribes.

Shalom--We do not know the "standard greeting" which the ancient Israelites used, if indeed they had one. But because modern dialog is so used to having a standard greeting, I have picked the word "Shalom" for it, since this word is already closely associated with Israel.

Teraphim--Teraphim were spirits or gods who protected a house. They were part of the Elohim, supernatural beings from spirits and demons up to the gods. Spirits were everywhere and were capable of action for or against humans. It was wise to remain on their good side with sacrifices and gifts. Fortunately, all spirits and gods were tied to a geographical location, and their power weakened quickly when outside the geographic area. Crossing a border meant leaving the power of one god and coming under the power of another. House gods, teraphim, could only guard a single house, a hill spirit could only operate on that single hill, etc. A god's power was directly tied to the amount of territory he could operate in. Thus, the more territory a king conquered for his god, the stronger the god became. This is why war was a sacred activity.

Titles--Hebrew has several titles of respect. I have decided to use them, somewhat arbitrarily, in the following order from least respect to greatest. Geber (sir)--adon (lord)/baal (lord)--sar (prince)--nahsi (governing lord)--nagid (ruling prince)--melek (king).

Feminine titles are as follows: Geberet (ma'am)--baalah (lady)--sahrah (princess)--Hassahrah (queen.)

The Philistines also had sars, but for them, "sar" was the equivalent of the Hebrew "commander" The word they used for "sar" or "prince" was "seren" See Vocabulary.

In Hebrew, as in many other languages other than English, the title normally follows the name rather than preceding it. But to make it easier for my readers, I have used the English convention, unless the title is used in its most formal sense. Also in Hebrew, it is more courteous to call someone simply by their title. Personal names of respected persons would have only been used by intimate family or very close friends. Thus, to begin with, Dahveed calls Jonathan "Hassar Jonathan," or "Hassar." For very formal introductions, or when a personage is being called on in their formal capacity, Jonathan's name would be "Jonathan ben Shaul, Hassar Israel," with the title last. It will behoove the reader to pay attention to how the titles are used in the story!

Transfer of the throne--The time of Shaul/Dahveed/Solomon was very uncertain politically for the emerging nation of Israel/Judah. Many of the same problems occurred between the tribes as occurred between the states here in the USA under the Articles of Confederation before the Constitution was adopted and George Washington became president. Each tribe was independent, indeed each town and clan were autonomous and provincial in outlook. Shaul rose to power on the need for protection from the Philistines, and "ruled" only through his alliances with the elders of towns and tribes who followed him only because he was the best one at keeping the Philistines out of the highlands. Dahveed inherited this chiefdom, and gradually moved it toward a monarchy. The old autonomous ways, however, resurfaced after Solomon died, producing the divided kingdom.

As in every political entity, the transfer of power was important, and since Shaul was the first "king" there was no precedent to follow. In the Ancient Near East, power normally transferred in one of three ways. When the old king died, the throne could pass by inheritance to his son, or return back to the Gebirah (see above) who might or might not be the king's daughter or relative. Her husband if she had one, became the next king. The throne could also pass by popular acclaim, the candidate the most people liked getting the position. This method usually disintegrated into civil war with any number of sides until one candidate slaughtered all the rest, or a foreigner with a bigger army came in and took the throne. If he married into the previous royal family, he could be accepted. Often, however, the fact of his foreign blood would produce rebellion against his son, or his house even generations later.

In the case of Shaul and Dahveed, it is clear that Dahveed rivaled Jonathan in popular acclaim, and married to Michal he became a son of the king. If Michal was named Gebirah, Dahveed would have a very strong claim to the throne no matter which way Shaul chose to pass it on. Hence Shaul's eagerness to remove Dahveed from the picture to assure that Jonathan, the son of his blood, would get to rule.

Units of measure--I decided to use modern units of measure for units of length since the flow of the story would not be interrupted while the reader tried to equate ancient units of length with modern.